INN8 chief operating officer Caroline Naylor-Renn on the true value of disruption in building an independent investment platform

There are times when all that is needed to change the way things are done is an outsider looking in. Take Caroline Naylor-Renn, for example. The current chief operating officer at INN8 started her career as an administrator in a financial adviser’s office in King’s Cross, London.

It was her passion for modern technology that steered her towards the fintech industry, and she has subsequently built investment platforms in nine different countries over the past two decades.

At the same time, Naylor-Renn witnessed first-hand the evolution of the industry, from its infancy to the exciting and specialised platforms of today. In the SA context, we are familiar with the concept of a LISP, globally known as investment platforms. Armed with this insight and a strong belief in the potential for how technology can change the way investments are done, she was headhunted for INN8, an independent investment platform that is inspired by SA’s wealth managers.

Naylor-Renn leads the INN8 way – not by simply recruiting actuaries in suits but instead by choosing, for the company’s tribe, people who are insatiably curious, focused on delivering the future and who live for awesome experiences. Because all the technology in the world won’t make a difference if a company doesn’t have the right people.

There’s no doubt that ‘disruption’ is the buzzword of today. The introduction of new technologies such as AI, mobility and blockchain have inspired people to change the way they do many things, from banking to socialising. Real disruption, however, doesn’t come from the technology itself. Rather, it comes when start-ups challenge traditional business models by decoupling the customer value chain. Instead of focusing on the whole industry, they pick one aspect of the business and use technology to do it better than anyone else.

Naylor-Renn’s experience in the UK afforded her the opportunity to grow alongside the platform industry, from the old days when platforms were built on legacy life and legacy banking systems – and users didn’t necessarily care what was ‘under the bonnet’, so to speak.

Over time, UK-based platforms evolved into being custom-built on industry-leading backends, augmented by modular add-ons from niche, third-party partners. Introducing features such as risk-profiling and financial-planning tools resulted in programmes being tailored for the financial services segment.

The SA market is undergoing a very similar evolution as many industry players acknowledge that there is a need for independent, purpose-built platforms, knowing that ‘good enough for now’ is not going to be good enough for long.

When INN8 faces any decision, whether it’s about the platform specifically or a protocol put in place, Naylor-Renn asks: ‘Why? What else, what could come next? How can we add more value to our clients?’ And it’s these questions that are the true drivers of change.

‘With a high cost of maintaining legacy technology and operational systems, lack of straight-through processing and more choice in the market leading to squeezing of margins, there is a definite shift towards change,’ according to Naylor-Renn.

‘While technology is certainly important, it’s not the most important thing. In fact, the users shouldn’t even be aware of the technology we use to deliver our service. It should feel innate, seamless and intuitive, allowing our services and client experience to shine.’

Since today’s financial advisers are more technologically sophisticated, demanding a better user experience and more choice in terms of tools and functionality, Naylor-Renn and her team are well-placed to custom-build a platform that appeals to the adviser’s business needs.

To bring any organisation’s vision to life, Naylor-Renn believes you need a good mix of great people, processes and values. Without this, the organisation will continue along the same path as before – even if it is using the latest technology.

In a recent company-wide employee survey, Naylor-Renn’s vision to change the way investments are done – through collaboration and purpose-driven work – was cited time and time again as the reason why the team bought into the idea of an independent, purpose-built investment platform specifically built with the adviser in mind.

‘You need people who think differently and work differently,’ says Naylor-Renn. ‘Having the right people, in the right place, doing the right things is essential.’

She has built a strong team using her ‘people-first’ approach. Just as her degree in geography wouldn’t traditionally see her enter the financial services industry, so she identifies people’s unique individual talents, expertise and experience as playing a vital role in creating the future she can see just ahead.

As well as having great people, the next step is to equip them with the right processes. In INN8’s case – an environment where technology is being built through collaboration –an agile approach is vital. Popular in the software development industry, it’s a strategy that assists teams in responding to the unpredictability of building software by using incremental, iterative work sequences that are commonly known as sprints.

Throughout all this, Naylor-Renn knows very well that her team doesn’t have all the answers and so working with experts in other fields adds value to the proposition – which is where the modular approach is helpful in an independent investment platform space so that smaller parts can be independently created to slot into an existing system.

Always bringing it back to the ‘why?’, Naylor-Renn is ready to remind anyone that disruption for the sake of disruption – for building something new and shiny, for being first in something for now – is not enough.

Thus, at the core of Naylor-Renn’s approach is value creation – value for wealth managers and financial advisers, and through them, value for their end client.

The potential value add that an independent investment platform has for an adviser’s business is immense. It offers a seamless, elegant, easy-to-use way to service clients, by offering convenience, leading industry insights and peace of mind with built-in compliance capabilities, and helps them to get their clients into the market faster, among other things.

‘We’re not offering the what – we’re offering the how and why,’ says Naylor-Renn. This is her definition of disruption.

‘We think differently about who we are, and what we offer. We’re not an investment platform providing tech services,’ she says. ‘We’re a fintech company providing an investment platform – but our real job is to make our advisers’ lives better, offering a better way for them to do their own job, and feel the satisfaction of offering lasting and impactful value for their own clients,’ she says.

The true disruptor is value.

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